Central Kentucky photographer: on being a church mouse
Recently, on my 366 Project I posted an image from a Sunday morning church service with a caption that said shooting in church, “The challenge is to capture the moment without intruding on it.”
Reading it again reminded me of how I try as often as possible to be a church mouse when shooting in a house of worship, be it for a service, a music performance or a wedding.
Now, the image that comment appeared with actually was not my mousiest moment. Trying to capture the moment where ordained members of the church lay hands on newly ordained members of the congregation, I ended up diving in front of the partition between the front of the church and the first pew to capture the emotional moment. That sort of goes against some of the rules I have developed for shooting in churches.
Stick to back and the sides of the sanctuary. One of my criteria for putting my name out as a photographer for hire was to purchase a 70-200mm, f2.8 lens. Why? Because that glass is essential to being able to shoot from the back and sides of most church sanctuaries, thus I am far less tempted to go running up the center aisle when you’re saying, “I do.” (It’s also essential for stage photography.) Yes, there are times where you may need to go into the action to capture the best images, like as the wedding party processes down the aisle. But usually, it is best to stay out of the way.
Easy on the shutter button. This was one I have really had to learn. Shooting music and theater, I tend to ride the continuous mode because there can be a fraction of a second between a really compelling look and a goofy one on the face of a singer or actor. The same is true for speakers and musicians in church, but the clic-clic-clic-clic-click really is not a welcome sound in most parts of church services. So I tend to frame, focus, and wait for a moment. In a way, it almost feels like nature photography.
Use quiet mode if possible. I shot a wedding last summer with a Nikon D700. Loved the image quality, loved the low light response, loved most everything about it except its clapboard of a shutter. With the announcement of the D4, I was happy to see it has quiet mode like the D300s and D7000, seeming to indicate the mode where the shutter sound is dampened is becoming standard. This is really essential in shooting things like churches and classical music.
Now here, I am talking about traditional churches and formats as well as weddings. There are, of course, contemporary worship styles that allow for more aggressive styles of photography. But, like classical music, churches are environments where you need to learn to get your shot without getting in the way.